Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ketch? Sloop? Schooner??

If you're not in the sailing world, you've probably heard these words, but you maybe don't have a clear definition in mind for them - they are vaguely "sailing terms". Or maybe you thought a schooner was a container for beer.

No need for you to feel that vague unease any longer! Here are the three most common sailing rigs you are likely to encounter on the water.


The simplest rig, a single mast. It is held in place with a forestay (which keeps the mast from falling over backwards), a backstay (or sometimes two - keeps the mast from falling over forward), and an assortment of shrouds attached to the sides of the boat to keep the mast from falling over sideways.

The sloop carries two sails as "working sails" - that is, the primary sails (I am not going to talk about spinnakers, reachers, screechers, asyms, etc): the mainsail, and the jib. The mainsail is attached at it's leading edge (the "luff") to the mast, and at its foot, to the boom. The jib's luff is attached to the forestay, and it is controlled only with a line to its aft corner (the "clew").


Some would argue that this is a modification, rather than a rig in its own right. A cutter has an additional forestay, mounted lower on the mast and behind the forestay on the deck. A sail has its luff attached to this inner forestay and either has a small boom (club-footed) or not. This sail is called a staysail - it helps to accelerate the airflow between the jib and the mainsail. It is also a useful sail in high wind, when the jib is too big to use.


A ketch is a two-masted boat. The important distinguishing characteristic is that the shorter mast (the mizzen mast) is the aftmost one.

Because there is no way to attach a forestay to the mizzen (it would interfere with the mainsail), the mizzen mast either goes without (in which case the forward shrouds are brought as far forward as possible), or a stay (the triatic stay) connects the top of the mizzen mast to the top of the mainmast, thereby relaying its load to the forestay. There is no backstay for the mizzen, therefore the aft shrouds are swept back as far as possible. On the other hand, since there is no jib on the mizzenmast, there is little forward load on the mast (leaving mizzen staysails out of the discussion).

The combination of the mizzen and the staysail is particularly well-suited to heavy weather, since it keeps the boat balanced with reduced sail area.

Eolian is a ketch, with a triatic stay. Well, technically, she is a cutter-ketch, since she also has an inner forestay and a staysail. Yes, that means we can fly 4 sails. That first picture is Pau Hana (also a Downeast 45, since destroyed in one of the recent Florida hurricanes) - sadly, I don't have any pictures of Eolian with all her sails up.


Like a ketch, a schooner is a two- (or more) masted boat. But with a schooner, the two masts are of equal size, or the forward mast is shorter.

Here is another Downeast 45, Reward which is schooner-rigged. The angle from which this picture was taken shows how well the rig delivers the cumulative slot effect (what that means will have to be the subject of another post, about how sailboats actually work).

1 comment:

Winthrop Handy/ said...

Hi Bob,
I have enjoyed reading all your blogs and was happy to see a picture of Pau Hana . She is still alive and remains in Fort Pierce Florida. Her interior layout is identical to Eolian.
Because of her deep full keel we have been unsuccessful in bringing her over the road to Massachusetts. She is too tall to go under a number of the Northern bridges. We have removed the winches and the steering pedestal and now plan to have her repaired in North Carolina which is accessible.
Like yourself I have a deep love for the design and the build quality of the Downeast Yachts. Pau Hana got hammered for 24 hours at the Fort Pierce Marina in Hurricane Francis in winds over 150 miles per hour.
Her former owner ,Lee Rathburn, stayed aboard to save her and only crawled to safety when the docks started breaking apart. She and the docks were found over a mile away.
The bow sprit was torn off, she was holed above the water line on the port side but was still floatable.
In the next hurricane ,Gene, she was sitting in a nearby parking lot surrounded by other boats. Adding insult to injury her main mast was sawed off a foot above the deck to avoid damage to other boats.
Since I have owned her thieves have stolen the vhf, the chart plotter, the water maker etc.
My wife Anne and I bought our first large sail boat in 1989 that was a Pearson Vanguard 33. In 1992 we sold the Pearson and bought a Kalik 44 Sloop we named Shutterspeed.
Most all of our sailing has been along the Maine Coast or in Narragansett Bay .
I could really use some of your bow sprit dimensions. I will email some of my current photographs showing the damage and a story from Soundings magazine about Mr. Rathburns dangerous experience saving Pau Hana.
My email is
Best regards,
Winthrop Handy

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